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Malawi President Pardons Former Minister Jailed for Corruption

FILE - Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera in Lilongwe, Malawi, June 28, 2020.
FILE - Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera in Lilongwe, Malawi, June 28, 2020.

BLANTYRE — Malawi's president has pardoned a former minister of Homeland Security who was jailed in 2020 for corruption and placed on a U.S. travel ban. Uladi Mussa was among 200 prisoners released as an act of mercy during Easter. But critics say his pardon raises questions about the government's commitment to fighting corruption.

The Malawi government said in a statement Monday that President Lazarus Chakwera has pardoned former Homeland Security minister Uladi Mussa and also Jones Tewesa, a driver for the Malawi Electoral Commission, or MEC, who was sentenced to 15 months last year for obstructing a presidential convoy.

Tewesa was sentenced alongside MEC Commissioner Linda Kunje, who was given 18 months on similar charges but pardoned last year. A statement says Chakwera has also pardoned 18-year-old John Mussa, of no relation to the former minister, who in 2022 was sentenced to eight years for marijuana possession.

Mussa’s sentence led to public street protests and a legal challenge of the sentence, which was later reduced to three years.

The government says the pardon is in line with Malawi’s constitution, which gives the president power to pardon prisoners who have behaved well in prison.

Michael Kaiyatsa is the executive director for the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation. He said the pardon of former minister Mussa raises questions about the government's commitment to fighting corruption.

“The law allows the president to grant pardons on minor offenses. But this is a very serious offense — corruption. So, it sends wrong signals that the administration is not as committed as it seems. Also, considering the fact that he is a politician, there has been a perception that politicians always back each other, and this confirms that,” he said.

In 2019 the U.S. government had imposed a travel ban on Mussa, who was a special adviser to Malawi's former president, Peter Mutharika, because of corruption charges.

The U.S. Embassy in Lilongwe told VOA by email that “the travel ban against the former minister is still in place" and it has taken note of the pardon.

President Chakwera has also reduced by six months the sentences of all prisoners serving determinate sentences as a measure to decongest the prisons.

Victor Mhango is executive director for the Center for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance in Malawi, which has long lobbied for decongestion of prisons.

He welcomes the pardons but calls for a speedy review of current prison legislation.

“Because the act we are using now is an old version that was enacted in 1956, so that we should be having a parole system, [where] we are supposed to have a parole board checking behavior of prisoners. We believe that the current system is prone to corruption. Who assesses the behaviors of prisoners? So, it could be prisoners with names, the prisoners they can feel ‘these can support us.’ We are not only speaking for this government, we have heard stories before,” he said.

The government, however, said the pardons are an act of mercy toward prisoners during Easter.